November 18, 2000
“When will this terror end?” This has become the most common question circulating amongst helpless Palestinians during the past few weeks.
Since the start of the Aqsa Uprising on September 28, 2000, the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians have increased tremendously by the day. The latest events in the Bethlehem area have been
the most severe in terms of damage: both on the psychological and the material levels.
The evening of Wednesday, November 15, 2000, the twelfth anniversary of the declaration of the state of Palestinian,
started crawling slowly over the hills of Beit-Jala and the valleys of Beit-Sahour. By four, people had started to seek shelter into their homes in anticipation of the unexpected that might strike once more, especially following the massive attack by
Israel on the area the previous Sunday during two funerals that were taking place at noon in Beit-Jala. On that Sunday, seven people were injured—of which two were children—two cars were totally destroyed and one house and one warehouse were
also burned. Let alone the scattered bullets that shattered through countless houses.
That Wednesday evening, and as people were still trying to get to their homes, Beit-Jala started being attacked once more
just before four thirty. The sounds of heavy shelling came from the settlement of Gilo that overlooks the Aida refugee camp and the northern boundaries of Beit-Jala. The first round of attack lasted just about 10 minutes, after which it went silent.
The loud silence thereafter, and which lasted for almost half an hour, seemed to last forever. The streets became empty suddenly and darkness had started to spread throughout the city. No one knew what was to happen
Indeed, half and hour later, the sounds of shelling started to resonate once more in the distance. Once more, the source of the shelling came from the settlement of Gilo. But this time around,
the shelling did not stop for a minute and continued until the wee hours of the morning. Beit-Jala and Bethlehem were being targeted by continuous shelling of over 11 hours. The shelling started off by heavy machine guns and as the hours passed
the shelling increased to tank and helicopter shells.
Soon after, a total blackout engulfed the area leaving the people in total darkness for over 2 hours. That is when fear struck most. People had no
means of knowing what was going outside: fear of the unexpected for each house was now a potential target to the helicopter shelling and no house was safe anymore.
Just like any other family that got terrorized
by the haphazard shooting and falling of shells that night, we all gathered our emergency kits and headed to my brother Charlie’s house which is somehow safer than ours. My elderly parents, aged 81 and 69, as well as Carol, my wife—pregnant
and expecting any time now—Mona, my 27 year-old niece—who was stuck at our house by pure coincidence at the time of the shelling—and myself all headed to join my brother and his family.
sister-in-law, had recently prepared the basement and turned it into a shelter to accommodate the family in such similar events. The shelter, though small and with no toilet, is appropriate for short periods of hiding. Its small windows are covered
with metal. Rena had put some old sofas, cushions, quilts, candles, and lamps in the room. This is an attempt to provide adequate comfort for whoever ends up in that hiding.
My emergency kit, ready at
all times, includes mineral water, emergency light, biscuits, bonbons, Carols’ medication, and a guide book on how to deliver at home just in case we might need to have Carol deliver during the shelling, this is in addition to dad’s asthma inhalers
and my mom’s knitting kit.
Equipped with my emergency kit and with horrifying fear, we silently and hurriedly crossed the dark driveway under the shell-lit skies and went straight into hiding. It was
around 5:30 then, one hour after the first shelling.
My brother, his wife, and two children aged 8 and 3, joined us in the shelter. All full of fear, we sat silently for a while listening to the distant heavy
shooting and shelling hoping that it does not get near to us. For over an hour, no one said a word as the shelling was higher than any vocal uttering any one would make.
My mother took out her knitting kit
and continued to work on an outfit for Nadim, our son whom we hoped would not decide to come to life just yet for he was safer inside his mom’s womb.
My dad took out his crossword puzzle book and pen,
which he had in his pocket, and indulged in a challenging brainteaser. It is a way to keep himself sane and to keep his mind stimulated at his wise age of 81. Besides, this also distracts him from giving too much notice to what is happening outside.
Carol sat down in her chair and cuddled herself under the blanket. She had started to get cold and, since there was no toilet, she was worried that she might have an attack of diarrhea, one of the symptoms she gets when
she is afraid. In the back of her mind was little Nadim who has been kicking as if requesting to leave his own little hiding yet not knowing what lies ahead of him. She was also worried about her parents who live in Beit-Jala which was being shelled.
Charlie and Rena managed to put the children to sleep after much struggle. And when they finally did, they both sat in silence for a while before Rena started telling jokes in an attempt to bring a smile to our pale
and scared faces.
Mona, having just returned from Jordan where she will get married by the end of December and where she went to prepare for her new house, sat in silence scared of the outcome of this imminent and
The ticking of the clocks seemed to have stopped only to be replaced by the sound of bullets and shells falling on the whole city. What made things even scarier was that the sound of shelling
was getting closer to our neighborhood until suddenly a huge bang was heard just outside the house causing the building to shake. The sound was so loud, it seemed to be in the next room. At hearing the sound, we all threw ourselves instinctively
to the ground except for mom and dad who stayed in their seats but had put down whatever they were engaged with.
It was only matter of seconds when the whole room turned into a chaotic human rumble.
Rena, who was holding sleeping little Claudia, her three-year-old daughter, clutched her hard towards her and with her body engulfing the little body fell to the floor.
on the floor where she fell and let out a loud cry and she started sobbing and shivering while looking at my mom, her grandmother, with a look of helplessness and plea to help her out. My mom immediately went to her and covered her with a blanket and
brought her next to her in an attempt to ease her shock. Her shaking hands were freezing.
Carol, conscious of her pregnancy and yet taken by her instinct, also threw herself down very cautiously to protect
herself and her baby and yet making sure not to hurt him.
Charlie and I went down as well, making sure to screen everyone in the room, to ensure that no harm had reached any of us. My stomachache, which had
started with the first shooting a few hours earlier, had by now become more severe. It was like someone was tying my intestines into knots. I looked up at my parents and was shocked at the cool attitude they had both kept as if nothing had happened.
The room suddenly went silent and so did the shelling. We stayed in our positions for a short while. The deadly silence was killing our curiosity, wondering what that bang was and whether it had hurt anyone or
damaged any home for it definitely did not seem like firecrackers celebrating the declaration of the state of Palestinian.
After ensuring that there was no shelling, at least for the time being, my brother left
the room and went upstairs. He wanted to investigate the matter, only to return to us almost half-an-hour later to tell us that two shells had fallen within a 20-meter radius from the house. The one destroyed all the water tanks on the rooftop
of his next-door neighbor and the second fell in an empty piece of land that belonged to another next-door neighbor. Luckily, no one was injured or hurt.
This however kept us on the alert until early
in the morning, sleepless and restless, creating even more fear within us, since there was a big chance that the next target would be the house where we were.
What worried me most however is more dramatic than that.
I was afraid that if, God forbid, a shell was to hit the house, there would be no time to evacuate the place under any condition, having to protect my elderly parents—who already have difficulty in walking, let alone running—my two little nephew
and niece, my expecting wife, and my other niece who was still in shock.
I ask, “When will this terror end?” Our children and elderly are helpless, living in the terror inflicted on us by the continuous
Israeli shelling of civilian targets, be it individuals, houses, or even cars, killing our people and leaving many without roof tops or even a piece of bread to live on.
But most of all, such atrocities are
definitely stealing away from us our basic elements as mere humans: pride, dignity, and human rights. Why can’t we then enjoy these supposedly inherent elements instead of begging for them?